This week, the head of the NRCS, Bruce Knight testified about the progress of the 20 conservation programs administered by his department.
Bruce Knight, USDA-NRCS: "Conservation programs on working agricultural lands benefit both producers and the public supporting sustainable agriculture and enhancing the environment."
Knight was joined by representatives of various farm and habitat development groups. Though their statements had a generally positive stance there were a few comments that offset the overall upbeat mood.
Olin Sims, National Association of Conservation Districts: "Our membership has voiced some concern about the number of programs and some of the producers down at the local level sometimes don't understand which program would work for them best and they need some assistance with that."
The Conservation Security program, originally spearheaded by Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, was expanded this year to cover 25 million acres in 60 watersheds. Even with the increases over the previous three years Harkin continues to be displeased with the way CSP has been administrated.
Tom Harkin, D-Iowa: "Mr. Knight, again, I want to thank you for taking charge of the CSP. The work that you have been doing on correcting some of the earlier missteps I think it's moving ahead fine now, though as you know I still have a problem with watershed-based approach on this...How long, and if you can't answer today If you'd just get back to me I'd appreciate it, how many years would it take NRCS offer CSP on every watershed atleast once.
Bruce Knight, USDA-NRCS: "Our original intent, as you know, was able to do it once every eight years, but because of some of the restrictions on spending we are probably fallen off that eight year schedule."
And the confusion over how CSP is handled at the local level brought some criticism from Jim Andrew of the Iowa Soybean Association.
Jim Andrew, Iowa Soybean Association: "Many farmers are becoming disillusioned and frustrated with the slow pace of program implementation. The ever changing rules and budgetary constraints differ greatly from the way the program was originally explained to the farmer and are causing some to give up before they even enroll."
Despite the complaints from the non-governmental witnesses, the Bush administration's representatives report they are working hard to streamline the process and put more money in the pockets of producers.
Bruce Knight, USDA-NRCS: "Every dime we are able to save in program administration costs, because of direct-charge system, in turn, means additional contracts we're able to put on the ground.